Foodservice Equipment & Supplies

SEP 2017

Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazines is an industry resource connecting foodservice operators, equipment and supplies manufacturers and dealers, and facility design consultants.

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SEPTEMBER 2017 • FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES • 127 O n the heels of the meteoric rise of Mexican, Italian and Asian fare, the next ethnic sensation — Middle Eastern — prepares to take flight. Flavor influence comes from the many regions of the Arab world. Dishes from countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Israel and Lebanon incorporate healthy ingredients, and each country has its own specialties and food preparation methods. The overall rise of ethnic cuisines in America includes international flavors with more authenticity, according to Aaron D. Allen, founder and CEO of Aaron Allen & Associates in Orlando, Fla. "Although Mediterranean has been here awhile, the industry has tried to re-express what that term means." The ongoing exposure to international foods through the media and travel, in addition to Americans' more sophisti- cated palates and focus on healthier living, continue to spur the rise of Middle Eastern cuisine. Yet, the American versions of these dishes are not necessarily authentic. "Many foods have been adapted to American palates, and there is a different understanding as to what this food is, similar to Mexican food," says Allen. Because consumers tend to migrate to the more familiar, the industry has been cautious in terms of being too authen- tic with Middle Eastern cuisine. "Still, it's a catch 22, because if you dumb it down too much, you miss the market," says Allen. "A big part of it is timing and differentiation." Attracting a new audience and trying to educate them on tabbouleh, falafel and baba ghanoush can take a lot of effort, but it's important to differentiate between Mediter- ranean and Middle Eastern fare. "There have been many debates about this, but generally the right way to go is to have greater integrity to bring what's true to the cuisine than overly Americanizing it," says Allen. "What's successful is leveraging centuries-old culinary cuisines and flavor profiles and reintroducing them to the U.S. in a way that's unique and gives people something to talk about." Refresh Ramps Up Growth A revamp at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho-based chain Pita Pit, which includes a new reversible prep station as well as an updated contemporary interior design package and menu graphics, comes on the heels of its monumental growth. Since opening its first restaurant in the U.S. in 1999, Pita Pit Inc. has continued to be one of the country's fastest- growing quick-service restaurant franchises. The company was founded in Ontario, Canada, in 1995, and acquired in 2005 by Pita Pit USA. Now with more than 600 locations across 11 countries, and 250 sites in the U.S., Pita Pit has been recognized as number one in its category by Entrepreneur Magazine's Franchise 500 and was ranked as the 14th fastest-growing restaurant chain in the world by Chicago-based market research firm Technomic in 2016. "I started out as a customer and then started franchising and partnered with the owners in 2005," says president Peter Riggs. "Our biggest presence is in Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand." All of Pita Pit's fast-casual locations measure between 1,200 and 1,500 square feet and seat between 10 and 20. The biggest change with the redesign was with the L-shaped counter, which contained two exhibition sandwich stations. "We chopped off the corner of the L and placed it at a 45-degree angle to create more room for customers, while increasing speed and efficiency," says Riggs. "Customers have a limited amount of time, we need to get them in and out in a hurry." The dining room redesign is Americanized with Middle Eastern flare that incorporates new lights and red chairs with white tabletops. With healthier and more diverse menu options, the Middle Eastern restaurant segment is poised to become more prominent in the U.S. By Lisa White Middle Eastern Food Synopsis The most common Middle Eastern foods include dates, olives, wheat, rice, legumes, lamb and bread, traditionally served at the end of the meal, according to research from Jill Eversole Nolan, Ohio State University. These are typically seasoned with dill, garlic, mint, cin- namon, oregano, parsley and pepper. Grilling, frying, grinding and stewing are the most popular ways of preparing these meats, with olive oil preferred in food prep. Today's Middle Eastern recipes have been altered to require less prep time with less fat and fewer spices. Chefs are embracing the Middle Eastern food trend. In the National Restaurant Association's 2017 What's Hot Culinary Forecast, which provides a chef's perspective of culinary trends, Middle Eastern flavors ranked No.4 in global flavors.

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